It’s good news that you are about to retire, and now you can give a farewell speech. This may be the last formal business speech you may give. Even though you may be hired again at the company as a consultant, giving a retirement speech is still a special moment. You’re not just being led the door unceremoniously. Your colleagues and fellow workers are holding a party or event for you where you’re allowed to speak. You’re going to give your retirement speech, so make it a good one. This is not the time to reopen old bitter things during your job. It is the time to spotlight the good things you brought to this organization, the people you’ve worked with, and the positive message you want to leave people with.
It’s not the end
Keep a good taste in your mouth because you don’t know what the future holds. You may need your colleagues if you are standing for mayor or city council voting. Maybe your organization will hire you back as a consultant in the coming years when things have gone South, and the company needs your expertise.
So, you may be retiring, but it never hurts to leave on positive terms to build goodwill. It does not mean to lie and sugarcoat things but focus on the positive things. There must have been something at this organization that kept you coming back, so focus on that. Just think about what you enjoyed at this place.
The focus of a retirement speech
First, we must define what a retirement speech is and what it isn’t so that we can narrow our focus in preparation. It’s not a speech to the board of directors nor a speech to analysts as a quarterly conference call. You don’t have to go over every success quarterly or monthly. You don’t need to use PowerPoint, although if you want to use pictures in one, there’s nothing wrong with that; you don’t need to have a PowerPoint presentation. It’s not a time to say what you think about people badly. Like at a funeral, it’s not the time to pick on someone who just died. It’s a time to put the spotlight on accomplishments in your career. Things you’re proud of and what you think the organization should be proud of.
Take your time
It is not right to go on all night, but if this is a lunchtime party or an evening dinner in your honor, you don’t have to worry about the time and keep it short. This is the last time people will potentially hear from you in this organization, so they’ve gathered in your honor. They’ll listen to you, so don’t worry about the time length. It could be ten minutes, 20 minutes or more. If it’s exciting and heartfelt, people will listen to you. They will like it and respect it. So, consider what you want to achieve through this speech. Put a highlight on your time in the company and how you helped colleagues, clients and customers. Talk about the people you worked with, what they meant to you, and what you liked about them. This is a chance for you to make the whole company feel good about you and themselves.
Focus on the three most notable events of your career
you don’t have to tell people about everything during your job. If you’ve been here for 40 years, you don’t have to tell me about everything you did. You want to spotlight two or three things that meant something to you and the organization. Write it down. It might be something inconsequential. It may be how you had the smallest customer once get a product delivered to her home because she couldn’t get to your store. It doesn’t have to be about the bottom line, but there needs to be some human element. Brainstorm and think of three things that have happened during your career and that you can share in the form of a story.
Now make the actual structure of your retirement speech. You may not want to write it all out.
If you do write it, do not read it. It makes it seem impersonal, like a quarterly conference call with analysts, and there’s an SEC attorney behind you. This is a personal moment, so do not read your speech. The structure of the retirement speech is simple. Thank the people who meant something to you, explicitly mentioning specific acts. Tell stories recounting specific things about you and your team, and events that were meaningful to you and others. You make them realize that you feel good about them and wish everyone continued success. It’s not a typical business speech where you must get everything right because no one is recording every minute of this, picking it, and criticizing it in the newspaper tomorrow.
Tell real stories
Talk to make the listeners feel good about themselves and your time there. It is a moment of reflection about what this career, place, and people meant to you. Tell stories about real problems you met during your job. It may be about clients, customers, colleagues or challenges. Just state what the problem was. What did the client or your colleagues say to you? Where were you? How do you feel? Depressed or worried? How was it resolved? How did everything work its way through? How did you work together as a team? People will be able to experience it with you. The more your stories relate to things that everyone in the room can understand, the better.
Thanking people for helping you will make the speech more meaningful. You may want to thank a directory, accountant or my CPA for supporting you in a challenging time. You don’t want to sound like you’re just giving a generic thanks. You want it to seem heartfelt. Look directly at people when you’re talking about them.
Take the time and energy to prepare the retirement speech. Many people think I will say what I want on the spot. It’s one last chance to thank the people you’ve worked with. Mention high moments of your career. Make a simple one-page outline with the names of the people you want to thank. In particular, share three dramatized stories and critical moments of your career that mean something to you. Where there was any problem, you can tell a real story about how the problem was solved. End on a positive note as it is not the last time you are going to meet or need your colleagues. Thank people specifically for sounding real and natural.